Here it is: The Big One. Setting the criteria for our annual list of the 100 best restaurants in London was the easy bit. Anywhere we felt compelled to revisit again and again was in. Plus all those joints you couldn't shake from your memory, because you'd had such a great time. The Time Out Food team spend the whole year tirelessly restaurant-hopping, so our critics know which restaurants truly deserve their place. Nevertheless, we fretted, we sweated and we chewed on toothpicks while dramatically shortening shortlists. Until, at last, we had London’s best restaurants, ranked in order of greatness.
So in the list below – surely the ultimate guide to the finest eateries in London – you’ll find it all. We’ve got celebrity haunts (ones that are, y’know, actually good). Kick-ass newbies. Neighbourhood superstars. Glitzy destinations in London’s best hotels. Linen-heavy Michelin star restaurants. And places serving down-to-earth cheap eats. What they all have in common is that they serve some of the best dishes in London at fair prices, with service that suits the setting. If you’re looking for an exciting meal, you’ve come to the right place.
100 best restaurants in London
When to go: For a lunchtime dalliance with dumplings.
What to have: Look to the dim sum specials list for innovative treats (fried minced squid balls, maybe), and don’t miss the black sesame dumplings in peanut crumbs to finish.
After all these years, the original Royal China branch still holds its position at the top table of London’s dim sum venues. Enter its glossy black-lacquered interior, where curling waves and geese in full flight embellish the walls, and deliberate over the menu of mouth-watering snacks. Glutinous rice in lotus leaves (wonderfully aromatic, full of delicious tidbits) will provide ballast for such delicacies as honey roast pork puffs (divine pastry) and scallop dumplings, as well as inspired creations from the specials list. The full menu has its attractions, too, including classic stewed pork belly hotpot.
When to go: When you want West End small-plate standards without leaving south London.
What to have: The excellent Korean-style pork belly is a menu constant for good reason. For dessert, the chocolate mousse any which way is always disturbingly good.
What began as a pet name between French sommelier Margaux Aubry and Brit chef Joe Sharratt, who met while working at Clapham’s Trinity, is now the moniker for the couple’s dinky natural-wine bar and small-plates restaurant on the Brixton/Herne Hill border. This is casual dining at its best: Sharratt’s tight, daily-changing menu features gutsy yet refined dishes such as wild rabbit faggots with Earl Grey-soaked prunes and slivers of melt-in-the-mouth lardo, or boudin noir with tender grilled octopus and tart capers. The list of natural wines, meanwhile, has been expertly pimped and pruned by Aubry, with lots available by the glass and the rest organised by producer. You need never again leave Zone 2 for dinner.
When to go: When you’re after an excellent plate of comfort food in the company of a few neighbours.
What to have: Don’t miss the bar snacks, they are bound to surprise and impress. The menu changes regularly, so ask the staff for the latest recommendations.
Claphamites are lucky indeed to have such a good neighbourhood restaurant. Self-styled as a British bistro, it’s a place where the staff are chummy, the look rustic and the clientele ever appreciative – it’s seriously popular. The food at this second Clapham venture from Adam Byatt – who also runs Trinity, the area’s even smarter modern European restaurant – riffs on a range of hearty Anglo, American and French influences, but gives them a British sheen. The likes of toad-in-the-hole and fish pie sit comfortably alongside chicken liver parfait and mac ’n’ cheese – and all are prepared with impressive precision. For the best spectator seats, head to the tall stools by the bar.
When to go: When meeting adventurous friends who don’t mind sharing.
What to have: Anything from the small plates section. Sorry, we meant everything.
Caravan King’s Cross has taken the baton from its much-loved older sibling in Exmouth Market and hasn’t stopped running yet. The spacious, industrial-look dining room, with its concrete floors and exposed heavy duty pipes, has its charms; but on a warm day it’s the terrace and its breezy views of Granary Square that diners flock to. The all-day menu has lots of small plates and fuses international flavours in no-holds-barred combinations, resulting in relaxed, inventive dishes you’d never think up – let alone pull off – at home. The results are always interesting and the laser-precise flavour combinations are frequently eye-opening.
When to go: When you’re after world-class cooking with exceptional flavour combinations.
What to have: Save room for the wonderful puds, such as raspberry frangipane tart with clotted cream and pine nuts.
Even if you don’t live near Chelsea, you should try to visit this exceptional restaurant at least once. The décor is understated: a soothing grey-green colour scheme and unobtrusive artwork. The real artistry arrives on the plates, which are astoundingly good. Though dish descriptions run long, you’d be hard pressed to find a flavour out of place in the impressively executed French-skewed dishes. Both savouries and sweets are handled with confidence, and they’ll even accommodate off-piste requests. The wine list is of a calibre to match the food and includes a high-quality selection of more than a dozen wines under £30 – and hundreds more above that.
When to go: When entertaining serious food lovers.
What to have: Something you’ve never heard of or wouldn’t normally try. It will be great.
As ‘British cuisine’ continues to establish its own identity, it becomes clearer how groundbreaking Fergus Henderson’s Smithfield restaurant really was. It’s far from faddy, and St John’s continued commitment to well-sourced, simply cooked traditional food has stood the test of time: it’s still one of the most reliably exciting places to eat in London, 21 years after opening its doors. Forgotten cuts and obscure ingredients grace the twice-daily-changing menu, and despite the reputation for concentrating on meaty things, fish cookery is expert and very serious. While this stripped-down luxe doesn’t come cheap, neither is it as expensive as roughly comparable places. St John remains a model other restaurants aspire to.
When to go: When you want to kick back with the works: proper cocktails in a bona-fide bar, followed by talking-point dishes by a world-famous chef (who is still somehow cool).
What to have: The insanely buttery, just-baked madeleines. Far too good to share – unless we’re talking on social media. Just don’t try to be a clever-clogs and put Proust in your hashtags.
Ollie Dabbous doesn’t do things the way other chefs do them: given the opportunity to launch a hip boutique hotel restaurant, he doesn’t just sign on the dotted line and install an Ollie-bot in the kitchen, then cash his cheques. Oh no. He closes his world-famous restaurant Dabbous and takes the whole team with him on a new adventure. The result is a laid-back, effortlessly cool dining experience with proper pizazz on the plate. But would you have expected anything less?
When to go: When you’ve got cash to splash and someone to impress – preferably someone who digs live jazz.
What to have: The signature park carbonara: an Asian version of the Italian classic, whose slinky udon are stirred with an umami overload of egg yolk, sea urchin and nori dust.
For an evening pretending to be on a Bond film set, head to gold-fingered restaurateur Alan Yau’s glitzy, gilded, wincingly expensive Chinese. A slice of 1930s’ Shanghai whose lounge-style tables are angled towards the live music acts on stage, it’s perfect for the sort of date where comfortable silence (or glossing over uncomfortable silence) is in order. Your companion had better be worth it: even appetisers range from £16-£85(!). Have a stiff drink before requesting the bill, and remember: you only live twice.
When to go: When your gastronomic sat nav says no to a Brick Lane curry.
What to have: The house special, lamb raan, which is a slow-marinated, spice-laden delight.
The second of four branches (the first in Covent Garden, the third in King’s Cross, the latest in Soho), this Dishoom is one of the best places to eat in Shoreditch. The interior is modelled on the Iranian cafés of Bombay, with booths and mosaic floors creating intimate nooks with a charming makeshift feel – but also with a touch of cool. Dishes on the feisty modern Indian menu are vividly described and peppered with brilliant asides and interesting facts – whether referring to superior versions of chicken tikka and lamb biryani, or lesser-known classics such as a Frankie. Spicy breakfasts and brunches throw a cracking curveball, too.
When to go: When you’ve had the foresight to book weeks ahead for a fabulously fancy fish supper.
What to have: The filleted fish dishes from the main menu are a particular delight.
Some of its younger A-list clients may have migrated to Chiltern Firehouse, and it’s hard not to think about that Charles and Nigella incident, but one thing’s for sure about Scott’s: it’s still one of the finest fish restaurants in this fair town. The setting oozes glamour, from the grand oyster bar (a great place to perch and survey the room), to the impeccably groomed clientele and suave staff. Caviar, lobster and Dover sole may be pitched at the money-to-burn crowd, but there are also humble sardines and deep-fried haddock (complete with mushy peas), plus pretty much every variety of seafood in between.
When to go: When you want to show a sceptic how far casual British dining has come.
What to have: The kitchen’s homage to the Viennetta combines dark chocolate, salted caramel and own-made ice cream.
The three brothers behind this jolly venue have filled their rustic dining room with tongue-in-cheek farm references such as reclaimed tractor parts, bright portraits of cows and oil drums for tables. However, their intentions are sincere: many ingredients, plus wines, are sourced from the family’s West Sussex farm and vineyard. Start with inventive ‘mouthfuls’ such as hake rillettes, then choose from ‘fast cooking’ or ‘slow cooking’ selections, including the terrific pastry-wrapped beef ‘cigars’, served with the house-made mustard. Each plate has a spring in its step, and smiley staff encourage sharing – you’ll wish it was your local.
When to go: When you want the real deal without flying to Tokyo.
What to have: This is the place to truly experience omakase – that is, to leave everything in the chef’s (very capable) hands.
London may not be lacking high-end sushi restaurants, but Yashin in particular bridges the gap between quality and creativity. As at some sushi bars in Japan, soy sauce and wasabi are not offered for diners to use as they please. Instead, the sushi chef crafts and seasons each piece differently, to bring out certain qualities of every piece of fish or shellfish. A fatty piece of salmon nigiri may be lightly blow-torched to enhance its flavoursome oils, for example, then balanced by cubes of tangy, citrus ponzu jelly. For something equally eclectic (but without the rice), try its sister restaurant in South Kensington – Yashin Ocean House.
When to go: For a casual first date (or a double date if you want to book). Start things off right with exotic cocktails in the stylish drinking den.
What to have: Where to start? Everything is yummy, but unmissable dishes are the pomegranate-studded kid goat raan and the butter crab, packed with garlic and chilli.
The boys in Brixton done good – this Indian small-plates star has knocked Soho for six since it made the move from shipping container to bricks and mortar. The industrialised decor is familiar: metal ducts and cage lighting dominate the dining room and open kitchen, although softer touches include blush-pink upholstered stools at the shiny L-shaped counter. The concise menu, however, is no such thing: it offers the likes of bone-marrow kulcha flatbreads, samphire pakoras, and tandoori monkfish with coconut chutney, all delivered in sizes perfect for sharing. Over-order at will, with no regrets.
Venue says: “Looking for a late-night dinner spot or a quick and delicious post-theatre meal? Our kitchen is open until midnight Thursday-Saturday!”
When to go: It’s off the beaten track in Soho, so you can afford to be a little spontaneous; but ring first anyway, and avoid peak times.
What to have: The meats and fish are all beautifully grilled, but make sure you try some of the vegetable dishes, such as the stuffed courgette flowers drizzled in honey.
The Salt Yard Group have produced some stunning but little-known restaurants such as Dehesa and Opera Tavern, and have gone from strength to strength as they add new branches. Taking the Italian-Iberian small-plates ethos of Salt Yard, but with the cooking done over smoky coals, Ember Yard goes one better. The ground floor is a wine bar and restaurant with lots of warm woods; if you’re in the basement, try for the bar counter. Every tapas flavour combination is a winner; tender octopus with peas, smoked tomato and wild garlic, say, or Ibérico pork ribs grilled to melting softness.
When to go: When you want a beautiful meal but without that ‘oof’ feeling at the end.
What to have: Norwegian king crab or quail with bacon popcorn – just two of their classics.
Long before the so-called New Nordic fashion infiltrated London’s menus, this dining room in a former Georgian townhouse was turning out food that was quietly groundbreaking. Though of the haute school in creativity and technical detail, the dishes – courtesy of Icelandic head chef and co-founder Agnar Sverrisson – were (and are) deliciously light, with butter and cream both banned. Staff are charming and polished without being afraid to let their personalities shine through. A delightful place.
When to go: It’s the best place in London for alfresco dining.
What to have: Breakfast and brunch are just as appealing as the dinner menu.
Chef Anna Hansen used to work with Peter Gordon at The Providores, and stylistically, her eclectic cooking style reflects this shared heritage. A signature dish of sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette with spring onion, coriander and smoked chilli sambal is a winner, and we love the ambition and invention in the likes of baharat-and hazelnut oil-marinated duck breast, with root vegetable rosti, blood orange-glazed carrots and hispi cabbage slaw, or ajowan-flavoured pannacotta with lavender, poppyseed and milk crumb, drizzled with orange sauce. It’s particularly appealing in the summer, when you can sit outdoors in serene St John’s Square.
Venue says: “We have just launched our new menu at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, based around dishes from Savoie.”
When to go: When you want to show someone you really love them.
What to have: The charcuterie is a must; the set-price lunch a steal.
Bar Boulud is a branch of the original in New York, and offers a seamless dining experience, with faultless service and exquisite French food in a smart Knightsbridge hotel – and all at prices that seem like a bargain for this standard of restaurant in this kind of mega-rich neighbourhood. Charcuterie takes centre stage with an array of terrines, pâtés, hams and sausages. Mains run from classic croque-monsieur to salade lyonnaise and steak frites. To finish, try classic puddings such as a Paris-Brest. So how does Bar Boulud make any money? The wine list is the answer – go easy on the delightful but pricey bottles if you want to keep the bill below three figures for two.
Venue says: “A relaxed, all-day, traditional French restaurant on Islington Green. Join us for a simple cup of coffee with cake or enjoy a 'grand repas'.”
When to go: When you’re romancing, or with sophisticated friends.
What to have: The coq au Riesling (so simple, so heavenly) and at least one of the fat, full-flavoured sausages.
It’s hard to believe this used to be an uninspiring branch of Brown’s. Redesigned as a turn-of-the-century Parisian brasserie, it’s now a gorgeous, glorious space to conduct your own take on café culture. Even the loos are handsome as hell. As for the food, it’s rich and comforting (and terrific value too, given the portion sizes, especially if you go with a few friends and share), occupying the culinary space where France meets Germany. Dine on classic bistro fare (confit duck, croque monsieur) right through to full-flavoured sausages and flat-beaten schnitzel. Settle into one of the lovely half-moon booths if you can and enjoy the old-school, polished service: this is part of the Corbin & King empire (they of The Wolseley and Fischer’s), after all.
When to go: When you fancy a French experience of ‘Amélie’-esque proportions.
What to have: A golden oldie such as chicken chasseur.
Ask anyone to list 20 things they’d expect to see in a classic French bistro and chances are you’ll find at least 15 of them at this dinky Gallic charmer, including lettered mirrors, tobacco-coloured walls and a tubby Michelin figurine behind the bar. The restaurant has been full from day one because of its sensible prices, artful grub, elbow-to-elbow bonhomie and peerlessly efficient staff. The chalkboard menu majors in boldly flavoured French hits such as fish soup, steak tartare and boeuf bourguignon, plus plenty of wines by the carafe.
When to go: At lunchtime for the peace and quiet (and a lower spend); at dinner for the buzz, the great wine list, and the cheering flavour of charcoal.
What to have: The pappardelle with beef shin ragù is so famous it had its own Twitter account – and so popular it made the leap onto the menu at sister restaurant Padella.
This two-floor contemporary Italian is still as frenetically popular with Highbury gourmets as it was when it first opened in 2010 – pity anyone who attempts to get a table here for dinner on spec (they’d have more luck at lunchtime). Trullo is all about simple pleasures – its stripped-back interiors are stylishly unfussy, while the kitchen team takes a back-to-basics approach to the menu. Fresh homemade pasta, rolled just before service, is a must-order – it’s too good to drown in gloopy sauce; instead, its quality is allowed to shine through simple seasonal adornments such as marjoram, golden garlic and parmesan. Elsewhere on the short menu, top-quality cuts of meat and ozone-fresh fish are cooked simply over charcoal and served with rustic sides. Desserts, too, are taken seriously – and are seriously delicious, with tarts a speciality. The wine list boasts an excellent selection of Italian regional wines, including natural and biodynamic options.
When to go: For a leisurely lunch – bring your own bottle if you want to make it a boozy affair.
What to have: The menu changes daily, but don’t miss out on the brilliant desserts, from sticky date pudding to elderflower jelly.
Fondly remember sneaking a fag round the back of the school bike sheds? Salubrious Rochelle Canteen has given the old bike sheds of the neighbouring former Victorian school a new raison d’être. The blonde wood tables of the airy dining room are populated by designer, media and arty types all tucking heartily into the seasonal, ingredients-led menu – on hot, sunny days, it’s a first-come, first-served dash to the courtyard garden’s alfresco tables. Whatever the weather, expect simple, characterful dishes – from rabbit terrine or St John-style anchovy toast, to roast quail with aioli, fennel and lentils, and blood-orange mess. Never mind the cigarettes – time to break out the after-dinner cigars. Elsewhere, obvs.
When to go: When you want a kick-ass modern Indian meal in retro Raj-era surrounds.
What to have: Kick off with one of the selection of posh tikkas – the tandoori broccoli, perhaps, or the pricey but delicious stone bass tikka.
Gymkhana models its look on Indian colonial clubs in the days of the Raj. But if the look and feel are retro, co-founder Karam Sethi’s cooking is anything but. Based on regional cuisines from across the subcontinent, the cooking is modern in approach, and the spice can be serious without overwhelming the layers of big and subtle flavours that bring this menu to life. There is even a nice touch of theatricality: Indian punches come in sealed medicine bottles, with an ice-filled silvery goblet on the side.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for a bit of glamour.
What to have: One of the classics-with-a-twist starters, such as prawn cocktail with lobster jelly, avocado and crispy shallot. Or a slice of uber-traditional pork pie with piccalilli, hewn tableside.
Jason Atherton’s third opening of 2013 took a different turn from his highly successful Social ventures (Pollen Street Social, Little Social, Social Eating House, City Social and Social Wine & Tapas) with an impressively showy setting. From opulent chandeliers to floor-to-ceiling framed art, enjoy Atherton’s signature modern European dishes in the grandest of settings. Your credit card is sure to get a battering – this kind of decadent dining doesn’t come cheap. But for a special occasion it’s the ideal place to get your glad-rags on and eat in style. Be sure to enjoy a cocktail in the Punch Room (booking advisable) before heading into the glitzy dining room (or do away with an Ageing Hipster – a typically inventive riff on an Old Fashioned – from the comfort of your table).
When to go: When you know a quick bite will turn into a full-blown meal.
What to have: The smoked coconut laksa with seafood (sometimes prawn, sometimes lobster) and lemongrass dumplings is a deserved classic.
Peter Gordon is the father of British fusion, and his charming split-level restaurant duly mixes a wine bar and small-plates outfit downstairs with a more formal dining room upstairs. The menus might read like a word-association exercise, but the seemingly random ingredients in each dish – often with a Southeast Asian bias – confidently deliver a sucker punch of flavour. The cellar has an extensive list of New Zealand wines, with a tempting selection by the glass. It’s a perfect fit for this longstanding fusionistic enclave.
When to go: When you’re with your very best mates and you want to eat, drink and get the party started.
What to have: The cauliflower shawarma (order an extra plate – do it!) and the hummus. For something more meaty, it has to be the smoked pork belly lavished with pomegranate molasses babrecue sauce.
First things first: Berber & Q is not the place if you want a quiet chitchat, or if you’re one of those chronic hand-washers who can’t touch anything sticky. This stripped-back, under-the-arches Haggerston spot (near neighbour to Tonkotsu East) is loud and dark; food comes heaped on sharing trays, and eating with fingers is encouraged. Flavours are Middle Eastern and smoky, but unlike most grill joints, it’s the vegetarian dishes that really shine. The deliciously charred cauliflower shawarma, with its balance of sweetness and smoke, softness and crunch, is mind-blowingly good, but don’t overlook the tahini-slathered, pine nut-strewn hummus either. Team it with a cocktail – we love the Haggerstoned, a citrusy muddle of tequila, green Chartreuse, pistachio syrup and orange bitters. Their Shawarma Bar, on Exmouth Market, is a fittingly epic kebab shop for London’s most gastronomic street.
When to go: Breakfast at The Wolseley is arguably the best meal of the day.
What to have: Owner Chris Corbin always orders the pancakes. If they’re good enough for him…
This glamorous European grand café is a London institution that caters to everyone without snobbery. Perhaps this is why not everyone can get a booking, because of the sheer demand. So a date in the lofty, clattering dining room – with its black marble pillars, geometric tiled floor and imposing chandeliers – is a treat indeed. The eclectic all-day menu takes luxury as its unifying theme: breakfasts of pastries, French toast and eggs benedict segue into fruits de mer, caviar-laced omelettes and cream teas later on in the day – all brought to the table by an army of expertly trained staff.
When to go: Best when you’re already in the area, but any time if you need a taste of the true south (of Europe).
What to have: The specials of the day. Clams with garlic and parsley, perhaps, lamb leg with flat beans and olives, or turbot with borlotti and bacon.
A former car garage in a residential part of Highbury, this lovely restaurant is a slick operation hiding behind a practised nonchalant exterior. The menu – scribbled on a piece of A4, hot off the kitchen press – combines the rustic savoir-faire of France and the gastronomic gusto of Italy with the best of British seasonal produce: daily-changing Med-accented dishes range from salt veal with borlotti beans and vibrant green sauce, to spider-crab soup with punchy aioli. The wine list is as much of a draw as the food: from the hundred-bin cellar, staff pick a dozen or so wines for the day’s list, mostly low-intervention, many by the glass.
Venue says: “Oldroyd offers a daily-changing European menu built around the best seasonal British ingredients.”
When to go: When you’ve already been to every Polpo and want to try food from the chef who designed many of its dishes.
What to have: Small sharing plates with flavours drawn from across the Med, such as their take on piadina (an Italian sarnie) with nettle pesto, goat’s curd and asparagus. The veal osso bucco is another must-have.
You know the almost-saying: behind every great restaurateur is a great chef. In the case of mega-brand Polpo, which now boasts six branches in London alone, owner Russell Norman became a media star while chef-director Tom Oldroyd worked quietly at the stoves. But the self-taught chef has finally got a place of his own, and quite rightly gone and put his name above the door – no risk of anyone forgetting about him now. It’s very small and split across two rooms: the street-level space houses a teeny kitchen and a handful of casual walk-in tables; the restaurant proper is upstairs, in a deep blue-hued room so narrow you may well get bumped from behind. But lose yourself in the innovative, high-impact cooking and you won’t even notice.
When to go: When your Instagram and Twitter accounts need some attention.
What to have: It’s Hobson’s choice – although vegetarians get their own menu.
A self-consciously hip affair, with a no-choice tasting menu of on-trend ingredients in out-there combinations, The Clove Club unashamedly puts food at the centre of its experience. The stark, Shaker-style dining room with its attractively utilitarian furniture and most open of kitchens feels part pop-up, part school dinner hall, but the food is a major departure from both – seasonal, esoteric ingredients fill the ever-changing menu. The cosy bar is worth a try, too, with excellent bar snacks that make a lighter (and cheaper) alternative to a full meal – try the buttermilk-fried chicken with pine salt – a throwback from chef Isaac McHale’s days at white-hot residency Upstairs at the Ten Bells.
When to go: When you and your mates have something to celebrate – even if that something is just a shared love of barbecued meat.
What to have: Haven’t yet tried Smokestak’s signature beef brisket? Prepare yourself for moist, smoky meat heaped into a bun and topped with barbecue sauce, bone-marrow butter and pickled chillies.
Like an A-lister heading towards a public meltdown, this former star of the street food scene loves to smoke and doesn’t give a damn about calorie-counting. That is a very good thing for us food lovers: expect some big, big flavours on your plate, from garlicky mushrooms cooked in bone marrow and served on beef dripping toast, through house-smoked pastrami with pickled cabbage, to sticky toffee pudding with smoke-tinged ice cream. Go hungry – and we mean, ‘haven’t-eaten-for-a-week’ hungry (channel those A-listers…).
When to go: When you want upscale Italian comfort food with the cool factor that those Knightsbridge and Mayfair old-timers lack.
What to have: Start with a round of gossamer-light, superbly crisp parmesan fries for the table (and one of Campari sodas).
For their follow-up to the highly acclaimed Clove Club, Isaac McHale and co have, happily, not succumbed to Difficult Second Album Syndrome. Luca is a looker – all understated glamour with the whisper of money swaying its beautiful drapes – and its concept of ‘British ingredients through an Italian lens’ is a clever continuation of the cooking that made its sibling such a success, without the set menu format. This is fancy but approachable food: bruschetta eschews tomatoes for cream-baked spider crab; pasta is paired with pistachio pesto; and the tiramisu is a game-changing trifle.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for some old-school ooh-la-la brasserie fare.
What to have: Croque monsieur for weekend breakfasts; smoked fish platter with a pre-dinner apéritif; or something more French than the French, such as braised rabbit or magret de canard.
Even the townsfolk of E11 would be the first to admit it: Wanstead High Street seemed an unlikely place for an esteemed chef to make his comeback. But back in 2012, that’s just what Max Renzland (the brains behind a string of acclaimed self-titled ’90s neighbourhood bistros) did. Provender has since settled into its groove, and lucky Wansteaders have become rather blasé about having rich Gallic fare, terrific wines and a steady stream of foodie tourists right on their doorstep. Sunday roasts – which give a French twist to this most British of traditions – are rightly popular with locals; full-on French desserts, meanwhile, get everyone weak at the knees.
When to go: When you’re after a street food fix in a contemporary restaurant setting.
What to have: Swerve familiar options such as Thai fishcakes in favour of inventive curries and salads.
Back in 2012 when The Begging Bowl opened, the phrase ‘street food’ didn’t carry the same cachet. The restaurant was brave and bold not only in experimenting with Thai flavours and styles more often found on the streets, but also in setting up shop in Peckham before the likes of Artusi and Pedler had helped make this part of town the dining destination it is now. But it’s no surprise it’s so ahead of the imitators with chef Jane Alty, who trained under Thai expert David Thompson, at the helm. In Begging Bowl’s bright and beautiful setting, Alty is continually reinventing her repertoire – packing in plenty of research trips to Thailand. So get Thai-ed up with seriously sticky pork belly, lemongrass-heavy charcoal-grilled bream, cutting-edge red curries and nahm prik to blow your head off.
Venue says: “Simply the best burger and lobster in town. See our Facebook page for the latest news and updates.”
When to go: When you have menu fatigue or need an in-and-out treat.
What to have: The burger is undeniably tasty, but the lobster wins in the value stakes.
Burger & Lobster wins fans for its simple, high quality and great value offerings of prime burgers, lobsters or lobster rolls, with salad and chips. The bijou Mayfair original was promptly packed out, and its resolutely first come, first served policy saw huge queues forming. So this Soho behemoth was swiftly opened to soak up the lobster-loving overflow. It boasts a huge, lively dining room and lightning-quick service, meaning it easily accommodates bookings and walk-ins alike. Still, queues at peak times are inevitable for spontaneous types. The latest one is in West India Quay.
When to go: When you don’t want the food to distract you from the gossip.
What to have: The smoked haddock soufflé is good enough to eat twice.
A permanently buzzing hidey-hole for London’s social animals, this grand dame of the Soho scene puts its serious face on during the day. That’s when media types hold meetings and those old enough to know better soothe their hangovers with brunch. And then it plays hard with the best of the rest come clocking-off time. The long bar and polished loucheness of the Georgian-era dining room are great for cocktails and people-watching, while the menu of comfort food – think rib-eye with chips and béarnaise, or Dover sole – is familiar and failsafe. The main draw, however, is being in the thick of it all.
When to go: When you’re with friends make this your plan (instead of meeting for drinks and then drunkenly inhaling a takeaway on the way home).
What to have: The katsu curry Scotch egg is an east-west hybrid that’s the perfect foil to a local craft beer.
The third London restaurant from chef/restaurateur Brett Redman (he of Elliot’s Café and The Richmond), this izakaya majors in fried chicken, Japanese-style (that’s on skewers, FYI). Enter, order a craft beer (perhaps a London-brewed Beavertown Neck Oil or Japan’s Hitachino Nest Saison du Japon), then get stuck into yakitori dishes that make use of more than just the breast and thigh: moreish minced chicken skewers seasoned with chives come with a raw egg for dipping; tender chicken hearts are paired with morsels of smoked bacon. These, and the short selection of vegetable- and fish-heavy small plates, make for perfect pub snackage.
When to go: When you’re only a little bit peckish (portions are tiny) and feeling the need to ‘cleanse’ with a raw-food splurge.
What to have: The ‘raw’ sushi platter, with crunchy nori wrappers, light and harmonious fillings and impeccably flavoured dipping sauces.
Nama Artisan Raw Foods (that’s the full name) may not be the cuddliest of vegan eateries: the staff and diners are far too cool for all that tree-hugging nonsense. But what it lacks in warmth it makes up for in frighteningly good uncooking. Rice is fashioned from tiny grated kohlrabi (a sweet cabbage), and this is combined in ‘sushi’ with tiny pieces of cashew (for richness) as well as cucumber, avocado and sesame (for authentic flavours). In Thai coconut curry it’s sprinkled with black sesame seeds and served with a creamy yellow curry-ish sauce and folds of mandoline-thin pickled fennel. All against an austere yet stylish backdrop (stark white walls, high ceilings, throbbing low beats), which is more art gallery than restaurant.
When to go: To bolster your culture-vulture credentials with a sophisticated pre- or post-theatre supper.
What to have: The signature fish pie or a plateau de fruits de mer – but new additions such as the lobster and shrimp burger are classics in the making.
Despite its recent name change, the Sheekey brand is so well established, and so well known among tourists, that you’d be forgiven for assuming it couldn’t possibly still be maintaining its original high standards. Wrong. At J Sheekey and its neighbouring oyster bar, the kitchen buys the cream of the marine crop and serves it in (mostly) simple styles that do justice to this top-flight produce. The menu in this lovely, capacious bar differs relatively little from that of the main restaurant; both offer convenience (this is the heart of Theatreland, after all) and comfort. You can eat quickly to make your curtain, or dawdle if you wish. A classic.
When to go: When you want inventive cooking with no affectations.
What to have: The menu changes weekly, and you don’t get a choice, but it’s always interesting – from sea trout with delicate elderflower-infused beurre blanc, tart gooseberries, yellow beetroot and chickweed, to desserts based on a Thai-style Pimm’s.
Love supper clubs but can’t be bothered with the restrictive dates and dodgy venues? Then you’ll like Pidgin, one of a growing breed of polished eateries with supper-club souls. The debut restaurant from James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, one-time hosts of acclaimed supper club The Secret Larder, it’s a super-cute, wonderfully convivial neighbourhood spot with copper-trimmed tables, twigs they’ve gathered from the New Forest on the walls and a seascape-papered loo complete with the sound of crashing thunder overhead. They’ve hired a pro to run the kitchen (Dan Graham, formerly of L'Autre Pied and Dinner), and the food, which costs £40 for four courses (and includes bread with ‘burnt’ butter, gooey chocolate truffles and a shot of ‘Pidgincello’ at the end), is terrific.
When to go: When your lunchtime destination needs to feel like a home away from home.
What to have: Plenty of small plates to pick at, plus something sweet – their cakes are too good to pass up.
If you’re in Fitzrovia, for any reason at all, make a beeline for this little Israeli-run café. The menu is full of homely Middle Eastern dishes alive with colour and texture – think peach and goats’ cheese salad with roasted almonds and orange-blossom dressing, or spiced lamb siniya baked in tahini, wrapped in a pitta and topped with yoghurt and salad. The husband-and-wife team who run the place have impressive credentials as the ex-head-chef at Ottolenghi and executive chef at Nopi. Their idea here is to create dishes inspired by the food they grew up with, everything from what their mums made to the street food of Jerusalem. It’s all made fresh on the premises, and the window is filled with breads, pastries and exotic jams.
Venue says: “Enjoy two DIY lava stone steak lunch sets for £35 this month. Download your voucher by clicking the website button now!”
When to go: With a Japanese visitor, as this is a real taste of home. But make sure they’re paying: prices are at Tokyo levels, too.
What to have: The sashimi moriwase: 18 pieces of fish dressed up with edible flowers, intricate vegetable carvings and fresh wasabi.
If you’re a stickler for authenticity when it comes to dining Japanese, then Sakagura will be right up your street (actually, unless you own a Mayfair pad, you’ll be tubing it there like the rest of us). But here, authenticity and tradition aren’t bywords for a staid and strait-jacketed experience: friendly, unpatronising staff are schooled in the good, old-fashioned art of Japanese hospitality. The menu, like the decor, seamlessly blends the modern with the traditional to fresh effect: the sprout tempura, and the burdock and carrot sushi maki are delicious veggie options.
When to go: When the rest of your day or night doesn’t have to be productive: that way you can get stuck into the fantastic cocktails as well as the food.
What to have: At least one scallop with ’nduja EACH to start – it’s hands down one of London’s best dishes. And don’t skimp on the exceptional sides, either.
Rök’s Shoreditch debut was such a hot ticket that a second branch was inevitable – it was surely high-fives all round for Islington residents when the follow-up site was announced. Although the Upper Street restaurant has more room for diners to breathe, it still taps into the original’s minimalist-yet-cosy Scandi atmosphere, thanks in part to the open kitchen’s fire, wafting lemme-attem smells around the room. It’s a pre-whiff of their coal-smoked dishes, served with fermented and preserved ingredients: from kid goat with celery relish, burnt leeks and capers, to pork with collapsed apple and tangy sauerkraut.
When to go: Early: at peak times your wait for a table can top two hours (although two hours spent in a bar with your mates is never time wasted…).
What to have: The quesadilla: less dude food, more el dude food, it’s an open-faced slice of tortilla topped with a mess of meat, melted cheese, coriander and salsa.
Just when we thought the Hart brothers (the charmers behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis) couldn’t put a foot wrong… Gotcha! Of course their boho taco joint in Borough Market has been a Beatles-level hit. Sam Hart and a music mogul friend/co-owner once ran a club in Mexico City, so the vibe here is party party party, and the menu matches that Latin spirit: the signature taco comes topped with 24-hour marinated pork and cubes of pineapple, the salsas are slap-yourself fresh and there’s a serious mezcal menu to complement the frozen margaritas.
When to go: Whenever you can get a table (book ahead or go off-peak if it’s a special occasion, otherwise just try walking in for counter seats).
What to have: All the small plates, from ‘posh things on toast’ (taleggio with London honey, wholegrain mustard and truffle shavings; whipped cod’s roe on dainty soldiers) to grilled things, like the lamb cutlets, with their pink middles, deliciously charred outers and coating of mint, parsley and anchovy.
As with the eighteenth-century courtesan it’s named after, you pay Kitty Fisher’s a visit if you want to leave with a smile but don’t mind paying for the pleasure. One signature dish, beef from ten-to-12-year-old Galician milking cows (chargrilled and served with cheese-stuffed potatoes and blackened onion), costs £88 for two. Happily, other dishes are equally good and easier on the wallet. The basement dining room is intimate and atmospheric; the street-level wine bar best on a sunny day (as are the two alfresco tables overlooking so-picturesque-it-should-be-in-a-Richard-Curtis-movie Shepherd Market). Putting your meal together from small plates is the best way to leave without having spent a fortune.
When to go: When you’re in Soho, feeling spontaneous and with flush friends.
What to have: The house ajo blanco is a creamy, luxurious taste bomb.
This warm and inviting nook in the heart of Soho manages to be both authentically Spanish and admirably cliché-free (apart from the giant hams dangling from the ceiling). High communal tables, a clattering ambience and rapid-fire service make it a perfect post-work pit-stop – as does the exquisitely considered wine list, which offers nearly everything by the glass and carafe. The menu, inspired by the day’s market, mixes top-notch charcuterie with well-balanced dishes such as cauliflower gratin with manchego and miga, or pork jowl with butterbeans and raisin dressing, all at restrained prices – although, as with most tapas joints, the bill swiftly gathers momentum.
When to go: When you have sartorially savvy peeps in tow, this is a super-chic place to take them.
What to have: Skip snacks and mains – they’re perfectly lovely, but it’s the small-plates-slash-starters and deconstructed puds that truly dazzle.
Frenchie is a very special sort of restaurant; a central London dining room (right in the heart of Theatreland), elegant enough to take a top client, yet relaxed enough to never make you feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Part of the reason this balance has been so effortlessly achieved is thanks to the ‘Frenchie’ himself, Gregory Marchand (the nickname was given to him by Jamie Oliver, many years ago), who combines his classical, technical training with a playful, creative approach to cooking. It’s why the original Frenchie, in Paris, has a six-month waiting list. As for the setting – if it’s light and airy you’re after, sit upstairs, at street level; for more buzz (or on a gloomy day), go for the basement, where you can watch the chefs glide around the gleaming open kitchen.
When to go: When your private jet is having its MOT but you can’t shake your longing for a sun-soaked taste of Provence.
What to have: The lamb à la ficelle is French peasant food at its finest – it’s cooked dangling over a wood fire, then served with creamy white beans and salsa verde.
This southern French stunner gets things just right without conforming to the straitjacket of current restaurant trends. It’s run by a protégé of Stevie Parle, and his influence is evident in everything from the meticulous sourcing of top-quality ingredients to the back-to-basics approach of the kitchen, which produces dishes whose insouciant appearance belies a huge amount of behind-the-scenes preparation. Tuck into the likes of roast quail slathered in piquant anchovy sauce, courgettes stuffed with creamy, featherlight brandade, and melt-in-the-mouth ratatouille, washed down with Viognier on tap.
When to go: When you want to feel like you’ve travelled the world before you’ve even finished breakfast.
What to have: The fragrant, crunchy coated za’atar fried chicken has pride of place on a seasonal menu that changes every day. For brunch, the Iraqi aubergine pitta stuffed with fried aubergine, chopped egg and mango pickle takes some beating.
This neighbourhood charmer specialises in all-day breakfasts and evening sharing plates with a broadly Middle Eastern bent, influenced by flavours from all over North America. The small dining room is appealingly but simply designed, with colourful produce displays, plenty of light, and a counter overlooking the bar and open kitchen. Ordering from the menu is stressful only because everything sounds incredible: shakshuka topped with merguez sausage; Montreal meat hash; saddleback pork ribs in sticky date glaze; roast cauliflower with tahini yoghurt and pomegranate molasses. Go with a large group and order the whole damn lot.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for spice with a side order of adventure – and not the stomach-churning sort of adventure associated with the curry houses of Brick Lane...
What to have: The vegetarian dishes are show-stealers (who gave broccoli a licence to taste so good?) Also: do not leave without ordering the molten spice chocolate cake with masala chai custard.
Ex-Tamarind chef Nirmal Save has pulled off a real humdinger of a restaurant here: a hip, no reservations, East End Indian that puts the identikit curry canteens of nearby Brick Lane to complete shame by focusing on styled-up home cooking from all over the subcontinent. Cliché-busting pan-Indian dishes all come with a story: the supremely tender, cardamom-scented wild rabbit pulao is filched from an aunt; delicious Kashmiri lamp chops are based on a recipe by Save’s mother-in-law; while the dreamy spiced chocolate fondant with masala chai custard is based on the chocolate chai sold on the streets of Mumbai. Gunpowder: you’ll have a blast.
When to go: When your boss is treating your team to a slap-up office lunch, or you’re entertaining your favourite clients.
What to have: Anything offally, from the ox-heart tartare, given zing with cornichons, anchovies and mustard, to the silky, umami-rich calves’ brain meunière. Go on…
Restaurateurs Will Lander and Daniel Morgenthau have cornered the market for chic, contemporary small-plates outfits in Fitzrovia via Clipstone and its sibling Portland. There’s a lot to like here: the understated, simple dining room lets the food shine, and laid-back service fits with the neighbourhood vibe that prevails despite the central London setting. Snackettes such as steeply priced pork, rabbit and foie gras rillettes are ruinously moreish; each of the main courses will contain at least one ingredient you’ll have to ask about; but you’ll leave feeling you got your money’s worth.
Venue says: “Snaps & Rye have been selected for a Time Out Recommended Award. We consider Snaps & Rye to be one of the best of its kind in London.”
When to go: During the day for the best open-face Danish sandwiches in London, at night for exquisite Nordic restaurant dishes.
What to have: Open sarnies and pastries by day (try the divine ‘bread and butter pud’ made out of Danish pastries); whatever you’re given at night. Expect light, high-precision cooking with a focus on cured, smoked and spankingly fresh fish that will make you feel like 6,750,000 krone (approx. $1m).
Kell and Jacqueline Skött are a daring duo. Struggling to recruit stylists for their second hair salon, they chanced upon a government initiative allowing A3 retail spaces to be converted to A1 restaurants for two years without planning. They had long dreamed of running a Danish café (she’s British, he’s a Dane). So, they called their lawyer on the Wednesday, agreed on the Thursday, told staff on the Friday and partied on the Saturday. Initially daytime only, they later took on Tania Steytler, a Cornish chef so exceptionally skilled, her £35 no-choice Friday night menu is now available from Thursdays to Saturdays, thanks to local demand.
When to go: When you’re feeling patriotic about ‘great British food’.
What to have: You’ve got to be game for game, whether it’s wood pigeon faggots with prunes and crispy shallots, or roast fallow deer with new-season garlic, smoked bone marrow tart and baked beetroot.
This is the sort of place that makes one proud to be British. While it’s a wee bit posh with its thick hessian napkins and linen bread bags (oh, and one Michelin star…), its heart is still firmly set in the gastropub tradition. Owners and co-founders Mike Robinson and Brett Graham (head chef of The Ledbury) have put in a lot of effort, heavily promoting the ethos of using seasonal, local and natural produce. The ‘pub’ part is not forgotten either, with the bar dispensing fashionably good British ales. Head chef Alex Harper (formerly of Texture and, again, The Ledbury) has upheld the high standards set by his predecessor; dishes packed with British-grown ingredients have knowing flourishes – think black pudding Scotch egg with asparagus, or whipped chicken liver with thyme hobnobs.
When to go: When you’re dining à deux, haven’t booked, and want to get really up close and personal at the counter with your date.
What to have: Everything off the ‘raw’ (more accurately: ‘cold’) bar is terrific, such as the beautiful beetroot carpaccio with burnt goat’s cheese, hazelnut brittle and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
Ever since Yotam Ottolenghi first introduced Londoners to the notion of ‘Jerusalem’ food (modern, non-kosher Israeli cooking) we haven’t been able to get enough of it. Just look at The Palomar. In its opening week it was full of homesick Israelis tucking into dishes influenced by the Levant, North Africa and southern Spain. Within weeks, though, they’d been elbowed out by native Soho-ites, squeezing onto the cramped no-bookings counter seats (warning: you’re likely to get seriously jostled) or booking weeks in advance for the small back room (less lively, but more comfortable). The downside: tables are now turned every two hours, and service can occasionally feel muddled.
When to go: When you want food that sends you all ‘When Harry Met Sally’, and a superfood salad just won’t cut it.
What to have: The signature Reuben, featuring their celebrated salt beef on rye, topped with melted cheese, mustard and shredded sauerkraut. Perfection.
There’s more to Monty’s Deli than salt beef sandwiches, but it’s those towering tributes to the Jewish food of the founder’s childhood that got him noticed when he set up at Maltby Street Market. So let’s focus on them. First, the salt beef: this is one of the few places in London where it is made from scratch; dry-cured in a secret blend of spices, salts and sugars, then soaked and simmered until effortlessly yielding. Scarf it piled into a bagel or heaped onto rye bread (both also made in house, as is the mustard). All hail the Katz’s of London.
When to go: With its high price tag, enduringly cool atmosphere and exquisite food, Hakkasan is strictly for the hottest of dates and the most special of occasions (unless you’re the lucky owner of an expense account…)
What to have: Long-standing, budget-blowing signatures are up front and centre on the à la carte and include a delectable version of Peking duck with caviar.
The original and best branch of this high-end Chinese restaurant spawned a global empire – even almost 20 years on it’s easy to see why trendsters from Miami to Mumbai crave a taste of it. Hakkasan’s magic lies in its heady combination of high-octane atmosphere (is that a triple A-lister you spy through the gloom, or an anonymous local hottie?) and wonderfully executed, luxury-laden dishes. If you can afford to go all out, do so. If not, what the hell are you doing here?
When to go: When David Beckham asks you out for dinner. It’s the easiest way to get a table.
What to have: The kitchen can do fiddly and pretty, exemplified by stunning appetisers such as the tiny, slider-like ‘doughnuts’ filled with crab meat. We love love love the steak tartare so much that it’s one of our Top 100 dishes.
If you think you’re just going to pick up the phone and book for dinner tomorrow, dream on. Chiltern Firehouse was a restaurant sensation when it opened in 2014, featuring in tabloids weekly as yet another huddle of celebrities was papped leaving the premises. Yet despite the media frenzy, it is an excellent restaurant – in fact, the warm service and unusual modern international combinations from chef Nuno Mendes make it even more memorable than the clientele. Sit by the kitchen counter if you can, where you can watch the dishes being assembled: it’s like watching the Bolshoi Ballet limbering up.
When to go: Whenever you can get a table – despite its softly-softly launch, this converted garage has become a sleeper success.
What to have: The unbelievably unctuous Jacob’s ladder – fall-apart beef short rib served with caramelised black-garlic purée.
The food here literally speaks for itself: 108 Garage was launched with precisely zero fanfare in an area of west London not known for its bucket-list restaurants by a first-time restaurateur (and colourful ex-banker)… but the chef he found (via a Gumtree ad) confidently came up with the goods. The faithful came – and told everybody what a great time they’d had – and the rest is history. Now it’s difficult to swing a table in the grungy, industrial dining room thanks to British-Asian fusion dishes that marry beautifully artistic presentation with an expert balance of flavours.
Venue says: “We just added a few new dishes to our a la carte menus; roasted beef sirloin in the mains and scallops with black pudding in the starters.”
When to go: When you’re after a fancy meal that trades eye-widening prices and stiff service for that warm and fuzzy feeling.
What to have: The poached pear with fermented berries, rich fruit jelly, hazelnut crumble and white chocolate foam will change your opinion on fruit desserts forever.
Well hello there, good looking! That’s what this dinky Modern European restaurant seems to call to you from its corner spot on Islington’s Essex Road. You’ll get a warm welcome once you walk through the door, too: this is a modern family affair. Run by two brothers with experience in big-deal restaurants such as Noma, everything about the pared-back dining room and the dishes from the open kitchen brims with their personal touch. Such attention to detail can mean longer than average waits for plates – but what plates! This is high-falutin’ cuisine with real soul: each dish pimped to perfection, every ooh-la-la flourish made to earn its keep. Salut!
When to go: When your palate needs a shake-up – one fuelled by the face-sweating heat of full-throttle chilli peppers and fusion flavours from across West Africa.
What to have: Go back to basics with the jollof rice (topped with a wibbly-wobbly scoop of smoked bone marrow), adding other modern takes on traditional West African dishes at will. Even the okra is good.
Sometimes, a restaurant shakes you out of your small-plates stupor and makes you realise how samey your dining experiences have become. Aside from Morocco and its neighbours, African food is woefully underrepresented in the capital; Ikoyi addresses this gap in the market, but without getting all kitsch on our asses. Prepare for slices of buttermilk-fried plantain that are sweet, smoky and swelteringly hot all at once, pink-hued mutton chops with tamarind-spiced relish, and unbelievably tender chicken in satay-style sesame-seed sauce. Ikoyi? A thrilling one-off (for now…).
When to go: When nothing less than the best of the best will do.
What to have: The tasting menu if you’ve won the lottery, the set lunch if you haven’t.
Though recognised internationally as serving some of the best food (and wine) in the world, The Ledbury retains the feeling of being a neighbourhood restaurant. Yes, it is luxuriously kitted out and very expensive. But it still has the laid-back atmosphere of the bistro round the corner where they greet you by name. A key word for people who might only eat here once is consistency. We have yet to hear anyone say, ‘I must have been there on an off-night.’ The cooking of Australian-born Brett Graham aims to turn unsurpassable raw ingredients into dishes that taste unforgettably good; and flawless execution by a well-drilled brigade ensures that it happens, apparently, every single time. Plan several months in advance to bag a table in a prime dining slot, even for lunch. The wine list is world-class and not scarily expensive considering the greatness of the restaurant.
When to go: When you need to nail a power-broking lunch (or you already did that and are treating yourself to a celebratory meal).
What to have: Order the mango rasmalai – a spongey, sharp-sweet nod to good old-fashioned cheesecake – for dessert.
Big-name restaurants from the subcontinent have a habit of popping up in Mayfair, and so it was for this pan-Indian gem from luxury hotel group The Leela. The sumptuously designed, clubby interiors mix rich colours with colonial excess – happily, the food tastes even better than everything else looks. Whether you devour deftly spiced dishes from the royal kitchens of the north, or opt for upmarket twists on street snacks from the south, you can’t order badly at this consummate place.
When to go: When you want all the perks of dining in central London, but without having to actually travel there.
What to have: We loved everything, so you can’t go far wrong. But if the rabbit niçoise salad is on the menu, order it.
Anyone living within walking distance of this all-day neighbourhood restaurant in Herne Hill is one lucky duck – prepare to smugly namedrop this place into all future restaurant-based conversations. It’s perfect: the interiors are stylish yet unshowy; the drinks list includes extremely well curated wines; and the service is impeccable. Best of all is the hearty European food: from meltingly tender Hereford beef-shin ragu atop creamy polenta to a sexed-up niçoise salad filled with confit rabbit meat, and don’t-stop-me-now desserts.
When to go: When you’re looking your best: everyone eating here has the glossily groomed aura of a true Chelsea-ite.
What to have: The snacky starters are one of the highlights here – don’t miss the savoury tapioca ‘marshmallow’. Desserts, conversely, aren’t worth much attention.
London gasped a collective ‘WTF?’ when Peruvian food was tipped as an imminent mega-trend all those years ago, but look at us now – we can’t get enough of the pisco sours and purple potatoes, the ceviches and seamlessly integrated superfoods. Marylebone’s party-party Pachamama is a bigwig on the Peruvian scene; this is its ever-so-slightly toned down sibling, which sits pretty in deepest Chelsea. The open kitchen’s modish plates are as small as a size zero dress but pack some impressive flavours – scoff them with abandon and then forgo the more lacklustre desserts.
When to go: When you don’t mind spending top-whack for tiny portions of food, so long as they’re sensational (they are).
What to have: The double-crab roll with yuzu: the combination of Cornish spider crab and soft shell crab makes this dish leg-tastic.
This long-awaited follow-up to the Marylebone original is Dinings 2.0. The setting is fancier, for a start, and more spacious, with high ceilings, arched windows and a marble counter for watching the chefs while you eat. The menu, too, pushes the envelope, with shiny new dishes that are ‘ta-dah!’ stylish without teetering into show-off territory. Portions are predictably tiny despite their high prices, but at least that gives you an excuse to sample as much as your wallet will allow. You only live once, peeps.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for Turkish with a side order of chic.
What to have: The lahmacun – a kind of Turkish flatbread pizza topped with minced lamb, which comes with fresh salad (greens and pickled things) that you put in the middle and roll up, to make the best wrap you’ll have this year.
Selin Kiazim is what you’d call a slow burner. She spent years at Providores, and later, Kopapa, learning everything there was to know about smart fusion cooking. No-one had heard of her. Then, at last, she quit, embarking on her dream: to open a restaurant of her own before the age of 30. The first thing she did was host a clutch of acclaimed residencies, testing out her Turkish-with-a-twist cooking and building up a cult following along the way: smart cookie. In November 2015, she finally launched Oklava – a tasteful restaurant on the City fringes (more savvy suits than scruffy Shoreditch) where she could finally showcase the likes of monkfish with spiced runner beans or her trademark chilli garlic chicken with a za’atar crumb (aka Turkish fried chicken). Bravo, Ms Kiazim – keep up the good work.
When to go: When you’re feeling free of FOMO – this experience is a cross between a blind date and tasting menu roulette.
What to have: Standout dishes on our visit were the meat and fish options – especially the exquisite beef tartare with truffle crisps and a soupçon of Big Mac-style special sauce.
The ingenious concept of this hip follow-up to Pidgin centres around its trolley service. Forget stuffy hotel restaurants with their carveries on wheels: this cross between dim sum dining and a funky tasting menu is not for anyone in an indecisive mood – although 14 dishes are cooked up in the open kitchen, only two or three do the rounds at a time, so the potential for food envy as you scarf or snub is huge. Warning: no mortal should attempt the full menu.
When to go: When you want to surprise someone with south-of-the-river sophistication.
What to have: The homemade pasta is a knockout – but leave room for the day’s cake (lemon polenta with crème fraîche, perhaps).
This classy venture in Peckham thumbs its nose at run-of-the-mill local Italians. With its smart looks, daily menu of simple yet accomplished dishes and carefully chosen cellar, it could give the best central London Med joints a run for their money. The minimal interior, complete with communal table and open kitchen in the back room, lets the food do the talking. The short menu – full of punchy propositions such as smoked ox heart with romesco sauce plus own-made pasta and wickedly good ice cream – is an ambitious labour of love that further ups the ante on Peckham’s poshest street.
When to go: When you want the sophistication and smoothness of a central London restaurant, but with the friendliness and heart of a true local.
What to have: This is a fish-forward restaurant, but the juicy, crisp-skinned guinea fowl with its daintily prepared, heartily flavoured Caesar-style salad is not to be missed.
This former prison launderette (and sibling to the much-loved Primeur) has been repurposed as a cool neighbourhood destination, serving the day’s best produce in a constantly changing line-up of modern European dishes (all delicious). The restaurant is decidedly of its time. Open kitchen? Check. Communal tables? Of course. Almost illegible blackboard menu? Sure thing. Natural wines? Oh yes. But instead of feeling like a cynical restaurant by numbers, the concept fits this place as snugly as a just-washed pair of jeans.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for well-constructed small plates in an unpretentiously convivial atmosphere.
What to have: Mix and match from the concise, regularly changing menu – every dish is primed to delight.
It’s not big, it’s not showy, but it is clever. This spot in Soho is the kind of place you’ll want to come back to time and again. There’s only a handful of dishes on the seasonally changing menu – stone bass with artichoke, samphire and chorizo, courgette flowers with goat’s curd, fregola and chestnut honey – but you’ll still have trouble choosing. Be prepared to get friendly with your neighbours as the tables are tightly packed, and be aware that it’s no-bookings for dinner, but that’s all part of the charm. The team also has another great restaurant, 8 Hoxton Square, in Shoreditch.
When to go: At night, to make the most of the Italian-inspired cocktails in the hideaway bar before your meal.
What to have: The menu changes after each trip to the market, but everything is dreamy – indeed, we’ve dreamed of returning just for the saffron arancini.
The Deptford foodie tide looks set to turn with the arrival of this sibling to Artusi, the Italian that boosted Peckham’s irreversible rise to foodie stardom. The deal here is more or less the same: an understatedly trendy dining room where exquisite Italian dishes made with mostly homemade and market-fresh ingredients are lovingly plated up for your delectation.
When to go: On a mild night, when the fairy lights are turned on and you can appreciate the outdoors-indoors setting with a cold, locally brewed beer – no coat required.
What to have: In winter, oxtail croquettes are a winner; in summer, perhaps south coast squid with heritage tomatoes and British chorizo. Just don’t stint on dessert.
This smart, slick operation is one of a number of trendy restaurants neighbouring the knock-off leather jackets and mobile phone accessories on sale in Tooting Broadway Market. Even though competition here is stiff, Plot is worth making a beeline for: its highly seasonal menu is short enough to give you an excuse to try everything, its staff are winningly charming, and as many ingredients as possible are proudly local. Desserts are a strength, from buttery, sweet-salt Bakewell tart with blood-orange marmalade, to lemon posset with Earl Grey-soaked prunes and peppercorn shortbread.
When to go: When you’ve had a morning workout and you can totally justify two or three plates of pasta to yourself.
What to have: Pasta, pasta and more pasta. Big shapes, little shapes, fat and thin. Don’t bother with starters or puds (nice, but not why you’re here) and definitely don’t miss the pappardelle with eight-hour beef shin ragu.
Pasta is a funny old thing. On the face of it, so simple. Boring, even. But this chic little Borough Market pasta bar – from the people behind Islington’s trendy Trullo – will change the way you feel about it forever. There’s a daily-changing menu of plates, small enough to allow you to try a few (around two each, if you pass on starters and puds), but large enough to leave you feeling genuinely satisfied. It’s all made and cooked to order right in front of you – everyone gets to perch up at the L-shaped counter, for maximum viewing pleasure – while the setting, all glass, marble and steel, is effortlessly chic.
When to go: When you’re planning to splash the cash on a love interest – these heights are romantic.
What to have: The deboned and deep-fried lamb ribs are tender and packed with flavour.
Halfway up The Shard, this glitzy Hong Kong import offers high-end Chinese food with some of the best views of London. The smoulderingly stylish interior, with plenty of dark wood and red lanterns, makes Hutong a sophisticated dining spot for anyone aiming to impress their guests. Dishes are no less showy with the likes of deep-fried soft-shell crabs arriving in a huge bowl of fiery red chillies – the latter purely for decoration. Southwestern and Northern Chinese dishes less commonly seen on London menus are the main attraction, but there are also more familiar dishes such as crispy duck, plus steamed dumplings to choose from on the lunchtime dim sum list.
When to go: When your carnal urges will only be satisfied by something big and bloody.
What to have: A small steak – because the large ones would feed a family of cheetahs, and you need to save room for sensational sides and old-school desserts.
The original Hawksmoor in Spitalfields is a great bar and grill – but this newer branch is a truly sensational one. The entrance is a bit hidden, despite the Covent Garden location, but once you’re inside you see it’s a real beauty of a basement bar and dining room, which looks as if it’s been there for at least a century – in fact, it only opened as a restaurant at the end of 2010. The meat is of better quality, and better cooked, than at many more expensive Mayfair steak restaurants. That’s not to say that Hawksmoor is cheap, of course, but dining here is an experience that every omnivore should have at least once.
When to go: When you want to be surprised and delighted by a zeitgeist chef in a zeitgeist restaurant.
What to have: Whatever you’re given (if you’re there at night) – there’s no choosing.
If you’re a picky customer, then visit this excellent Shoreditch eatery at lunch: you’ll be able to choose what you like, and in what order. Come in the evening, however, and you’ll get a no-choice four-course set menu of acutely seasonal dishes that might include asparagus with cured pork fat and walnuts in spring, or monkfish liver with peach and potato in summer, followed by blackcurrant leaf meringue. The name of chef James Lowe’s starkly minimal, achingly trendy Shoreditch restaurant references his mother’s maiden name; he is definitely a young chef to watch.
When to go: When you want to get your glad-rags on and enjoy a decent meal in a smart but relaxed central spot.
What to have: Go for small plates so you can try more, and don’t miss the radish, celeriac, pomegranate and pecorino salad with truffle dressing – it’s a Bocca classic.
There’s as much buzz around the food at this enduringly popular Soho Italian as there is around the celebs who dine here. This can make getting a table at short notice tricky for mere mortals, so book ahead. For the full experience, counter seats make for a lively meal with views of the chefs at work – but bear in mind it can get a bit hot there. Otherwise the smart dining room at the back is more discreet. Take a tour of the regions of Italy via small plates or large-portion dishes, with addictive deep-fried snacks – such as breaded olives stuffed with minced pork and veal – alongside salads, homemade pastas and grills.
When to go: If your idea of a good meal out involves chair dancing in a disco-leaning dining room while getting messy with peerless fried chicken.
What to have: The Korean-style fried chicken in a bun, topped with crunchy slaw, gochujang mayo and chilli vinegar – paired with a house sour, obviously.
Badass chef Carl Clarke has followed up his string of celebrated pop-ups with this good-times diner dedicated to gourmet fried chicken, straight-shooting cocktails and fun. The buzzy dining room, with its dimmed lights, tightly crammed tables and thudding music, is a no-brainer for kicking off a night out in east London – as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk before being fried in rapeseed oil; it’s then paired with wonderful, unexpected, Far East flavours or potent dips – bone-marrow barbecue sauce, for instance, or oh-no-they-didn’t blue-cheese and buttermilk dip. You’ll struggle not to dance on the tables. But don’t.
When to go: When you want good times, good wine and great food.
What to have: Dishes change with the seasons, but the potatoes with cod roe – crunchy chunks with delicately oniony crème fraiche plus roe and nasturtium leaves – is typical of the style: simple yet stunning.
There’s a lot to love about this bright, tiny, neighbourhood wine bar, with its mere 24 seats (ten at the window, ten at tables and four at the coveted kitchen counter). Aussie chef-patron Magnus Reid is as laid-back as they come, but while his menu of seasonal small plates may seem straightforward, flavours are exceptional. There’s great music; a young, enthusiastic staff and a short but thrilling wine list. As for the enigmatic name, it’s not just a nod to the area – Legs happens to be in Hackney’s ‘fashion district’ – but a reference to a technical wine term, for the boozy trickles you get down the inside of your glass. So now you know.
Venue says: “New vegan menu available! Check out our website for more details.”
When to go: In the evening, when the fifty shades of grey in the dining room seem atmospheric rather than oppressive.
What to have: Don’t miss awesome veggie sides like the harissa-stirred butterbeans topped with charred tenderstem broccoli and ricotta.
It takes guts to open any kind of restaurant in quality-saturated Borough Market. However, Arthur Hooper’s isn’t built on bravado – both the kitchen and front-of-house teams at this Italian-leaning small plates restaurant knock it out of the park. Skillz are evident in meat and fish dishes plus perfect pasta, and customer-friendly service whose pacing and attention to detail results in a delightfully old-school meal out.
When to go: When you want food that’s prepared with cutting-edge direction but served in a welcoming and unpretentious setting.
What to have: The astonishing-value set menu – five courses, including the signature cuttlefish bolognese, for a bargainous £38.
Stoke Newington has always been strong on locals’ locals, but who knew it could produce something like this destination diner? Perilla’s gently Scandi interiors generate plenty of atmosphere, which is only added to by the friendly, informed service from its down-to-earth team. Add to the mix inventive Modern European dishes – from seaweed bread brushed with lamb fat and topped with kale and avocado, to spanking fresh fish soup zhushed up with blood orange – and you’ve got a neighbourhood restaurant worth travelling to.
When to go: When you’re craving some fabulously fresh Japanese finger food.
What to have: No contest. It has to be the temaki rolls, fresh from the chef’s fair hand with the nori wrapping still crisp.
As Japanese restaurants go, Jugemu is rather humble and relaxed – the kind of place where you have to pencil in your order on a basic paper menu. No matter, the food here is a class apart, from the sushi and sashimi to warm street-food snacks and cold plates such as bonito-flecked tomatoes in a soupy wasabi/soy dressing. Ultimately, however, we would sell our souls for just one of their incomparable temaki hand rolls – even though these are only available at the counter.
When to go: When you want an intimate dinner that’s sweet, yet special.
What to have: The deer (they can tell you about the different kinds; there’s always at least one in season).
Once upon a time, this tiny Neal’s Yard site was a bead shop. Now, it’s the dinkiest of dinky restaurants, with its kitchen taking up most of the street level (complete with obligatory stools so you can perch at the counter) and most of the tables in the basement. It’s cute: whitewashed walls and greenery; old books in the loo. So are the staff, enthusiastically led by Imogen Davis (whose Northamptonshire family own a falconry business; she still has her own falcon) and friendly chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes, who was self-taught before training at Devon’s River Cottage. Their street stall, specialising in dishes made from ‘wild’ British ingredients – game, native fish, hedgerow greens and so on – was a hit, so they opened this place. Don’t let the simplicity of the setting deceive you: the food is stunning.
When to go: When you fancy Indian food without Indian-restaurant clichés – any here come courtesy of nostalgia for the British chop house.
What to have: The malted kulfi dessert – intensely flavoured malted ice cream topped with caramelised banana and salted peanuts. Pass the smelling salts…
This cleverly manufactured concept borrows heavily from Dishoom: think small plates of sexed-up Indian dishes eaten in a buzzing, friendly, café-style setting (but, for now at least, minus the mile-long queues). We hoovered up almost everything we tried here, and so will you – from the herb-strewn seekh kebab and fantastic beef dripping keema naan, to the finger-licking, blistered, spiced lamb chops, it’s all excellent. Staff couldn’t be nicer, too, tending to their customers like family members.
When to go: Unless you live in Lewisham, you’re going to have to organise a pilgrimage here – but it will be well worth your time on the Tube and train.
What to have: You’re spoilt for choice, with not a dud on this varied and inventive menu. Try the malt duck with its papery, fatty skin, and the rustic yet sophisticated green risotto.
Like a mirage shimmering at the side of the A20, Sparrow looks too good to be true. But the restaurant is real, in all its white-walled, aquamarine-tiled, pared-back glory. Step inside and into another world, one in which the kitchen melds expertise honed in big-hitting restaurants, such as Pollen Street Social, with a casual, makeshift vibe. Dishes are as diverse as three styles of duck (malted breast, confit leg and crisp skin) and satay rabbit, but all are thrilling – especially when discovered in SE13.
When to go: When you’ve over-indulged and want to dine out guilt-free (or pretend you’re a West Coast celebrity being interviewed over lunch).
What to have: Escape your comfort zone with some of the wackier menu items: the ‘forbidden’ rice bowl and the roast cauliflower steak are both memorable in a good way.
The Ned is one of those London arrivals that you just have to visit, if only to gawk at the staggeringly beautiful, no-expense-spared design job that has transformed the ground floor of the hotel – a former banking hall – into nine separate restaurants. This light-filled offering serves up a flavour-packed, Cali-style clean-eating menu, with dishes that are mostly suitable for veggies and vegans; the rest is a blend of on-trend imports (hello, poke) and cleaned-up classics such as a gourmet burger in a potato bun.
When to go: When you want your dinner to have style as well as substance – this place is someone’s Pinterest board in restaurant form.
What to have: Stand-out veggie dishes include melt-in-the-mouth sweet-miso aubergine, and crunchy broccoli tempura wrapped in black rice and nori.
The Japanese are masters of minimalism, and this gorgeous restaurant does the aesthetic of its homeland justice with its serene décor, while squeezing in a few design tropes pinched from the internet (see the homespun specials ‘board’ for more details). The menu, too, is minimalist, with just four cold and three hot main dishes, plus a couple of starters and desserts. Thankfully, the lack of choice is a case of quality over quantity: each mouthful, from thickly sliced, melt-in-the-mouth tuna sashimi to piping-hot, chilli-licked karaage, and succulent charred pork skewers, is deliciously satisfying – and pretty presentation feeds the eyes as well as the stomach.
When to go: When you need some proper ‘drinking food’ with a proper kick.
What to have: Red-hot smokin’ Thai barbecue, a bowl of lardo fried rice and as much booze as you can manage.
Smoking Goat is dead, long live Smoking Goat. Having moved from its original Soho dive to new premises in Shoreditch, this rockin’ Thai barbecue joint now looks and feel like a real restaurant – albeit one with loads of smoke, noise and music. It’s all about ‘drinking food’ here, chilli-spiked in-your-face flavours that simply cry out for a few beers: we suggest the signature fish-sauce chicken wings, the crunchy deep-fried shell-on prawns (eat ‘em whole) and anything involving unctuous bulked-out noodles.
When to go: It’s a popular spot for media schmoozing, but also suited to a special occasion when you don’t mind parting with a fair few pennies.
What to have: The robata-grilled scallops with wasabi cream made it into our 100 Best Dishes in London.
Zuma’s little sister has no trouble standing up for itself. The glass-fronted façade gives passersby a peek of the chefs at work preparing robata-grilled goodies. Their lamb cutlets with Korean spices rank among the best grilled dishes in London. As well as all things charcoal-cooked, their raw dishes are also worth exploring, like ruby-red tuna sashimi. If you’re in need of a stiff drink, head down to the Shochu Lounge in the basement.
When to go: When you want some of that Bao magic, with a side order of razzle-dazzle and minus the stomach-tightening queue (Xu takes bookings).
What to have: The pancakes with bone-marrow-enriched beef shortrib topped with potato crumb – an insanely good mash-up of Peking duck pancakes and cottage pie.
Imagine the pressure the trio behind Bao must have felt thinking of a follow-up to 2015’s smash hit? We didn’t know what to expect from this love letter to 1930s’ Taipei, but we liked what we found: the vintage vibe, the smart but not smarmy atmosphere, the upstairs tea bar, and of course, the dishes. Their subtle nuances in texture and playoff between sweet, sour and spicy flavours give diners a real feel for Taiwanese cuisine beyond the bao. What’s next, guys?
When to go: When you want to prove you’re in touch with the avant-garde.
What to have: Umami mainliners such as chervil roots layered with miso, apples and ‘turbo whey’ – plus any of the bizarrely alluring cocktails.
If you like Cub, you may like…
108 Garage, Clove Club, Counter Culture
Any venue from boundary-breaking cocktail wizard Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) is bound to be off-piste, but Cub is something different. Located above the repurposed Super Lyan bar, this is a multi-sensory gastro ‘experience’ with drinks. The menu is plant-heavy (but not strictly veggie), with lots of sustainable ingredients – as in a deconstructed tomato salad with Muscat grapes and lemon verbena. Cocktails are decidedly bonkers too, but we’d expect nothing less from Mr Lyan. We also love Cub’s super-savvy staff and house-party vibe.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for fiery food you can eat with your fingers – and have time to queue.
What to have: The fried chicken or confit pork bao, though the small plates (pigs’ blood cake, trotter nuggets) are brilliant too.
Forget Narnia. This is a wardrobe you really want to enter, but then stay in. Okay, Bao isn’t actually a wardrobe, but the interior of the dinky Soho eatery feels so much like being inside a giant wood-veneered Ikea creation, you can almost hear the couples debating whether they really need 350 tea lights. But looks aside, Bao is a truly exceptional place. It serves award-winning Taiwanese street food with plenty of kick (it started life as a tiny Netil Market stall before grabbing the attention – and financial backing – of Trishna’s deep-pocketed co-founder Karam Sethi; a second site in Fitzrovia has since opened to attempt to sate demand for those pillowy buns). It’s the kind of stuff that’s great if you’re a little bit drunk. Just not paralytic – it’s too good to be wasted on the wasted.
When to go: When you’re after a Latin dance party on your palate.
What to have: The Don Ceviche (sea bass chunks in citrus with a scattering of red chilli and soft, diced sweet potato) is the winner in the world of raw fish.
There was a flurry of Peruvian openings in London in 2012, but Ceviche – which has since spawned an Old Street offshoot – was the Machu Picchu, towering over several peaks. Showcasing the eponymous dish of citrus-cured fish spiked with chilli, the place serves half a dozen versions of ceviche. But the kitchen knows a lot more than just how to skin and slice a fish – there are also excellent chargrilled meat and fish skewers (anticuchos), crumbly corn cakes and other nibbles on offer. Be sure to sample a pisco sour or two at the bar while you’re there.
When to go: When you want to say to your mouth, ‘you SHALL go to the ball!’
What to have: The bone marrow varuval (a sort of dry, bone marrow curry for spreading over a buttery roti), plain hoppers and any of the curries (tip: order an extra curry instead of several chutneys).
There’s nothing like Hoppers in London. Sure, there’s good Sri Lankan food in certain pockets of the capital. But very few restaurants are exclusively Sri Lankan (most are South Indian and certainly don’t do hoppers, the egg-topped pancakes after which this Soho restaurant is named); the few exceptions are okay, rather than amazing. So the fact that Hoppers is outrageously good is even more impressive. The small room, a sexy Soho take on all things Sri Lankan, is always full and always buzzing (and yes, you’ll almost certainly have to queue), but it’s more than worth the wait. If small plates, full flavours and unapologetic spicing are your bag, Hoppers will get your pulse – and your tastebuds – racing.
When to go: When you have three friends free on the same night as you – you’ll not only be able to book, but also request one of the lovely cabina-style booths.
What to have: The whole deep-fried sea bass, a sensational combo of delicate flesh, crunchy roasted rice-battered skin and fragrant north-eastern Thai herbs. The palm sugar ice cream with unripe banana (really) is insanely good, too.
Having raised funds to turn its residency in an east London coffee roastery into a permanent restaurant (it took just three days to raise £700,000, having only asked for £550,000), Som Saa finally opened its doors in April 2016. At last, everyone who’d ever wanted to sample the fiery Thai street food menu could do so in a stylish and exotic former garment factory walking distance from Liverpool Street (or Aldgate) tube. And sample it you should. Despite the cooking being from two non-Thais (ex-‘MasterChef’ winner Andy Oliver is a Brit, Mark Dobbie is an Aussie), the authenticity of spicing of some dishes is as straight-from-the-hills-of-northern-Thailand as they come. If your palate is naturally timid, go anyway, just ask the friendly staff to guide you.
When to go: Whenever you like: you can actually BOOK. The best ‘counter’ is the main one, but on a sunny day, the alfresco tables – a stone’s throw from Clapham Common – are a nice people-watching option.
What to have: The mind-bogglingly good ‘nduja with cultured cream and sour potato flatbread: the best £4 you’ll ever spend.
If you’re the kind of person who likes your napkins starched and a flunkie to turn it back into a ‘bishop’s hat’ while you nip to the loo, then Counter Culture is probably not for you. This tiny spin-off of Clapham’s acclaimed Dairy isn’t known as it’s ‘naughty little brother’ for nothing. The music is grungy, the staff a charming mix of achingly hip and infectiously enthusiastic, but it’s the cooking (contemporary European, but with ingredients borrowed from every corner of the globe) that really breaks the rules. Plates are small but deeply intricate, yet somehow without ever crossing the line into frou-frou or fussy. It’s casual, creative and cool.
When to go: When your funds are running low but you still want to eat exciting food – go with a group to taste as much as possible.
What to have: The superbly tender, Burmese-spiced short-rib curry is a true crowd-pleaser; or snap up any of the nightly specials.
Self-taught chef Ben Chapman played a whopper of a hand with his first solo gaffe, Smoking Goat; this second venture is a continuation of the Thai barbecue theme. Kiln is a little less dive-y than its sibling. Instead, its simple, stripped-back looks work perfectly with the Soho setting and the style of cooking. Quality, Brit-sourced meat and fish are chargrilled over embers, Thai-style, and served with the fiery, flavour-packed sauces typical of rural Thailand – sit up at the counter to watch the chefs and furnaces in action.
When to go: As early as poss if you don’t want to stand in line for hours – although it’s totally worth the wait (itself made more bearable if you order in-queue drinks and snacks).
What to have: How to choose... It’s all so good. Mix classics such as the impeccably runny-centred tortilla with more adventurous regional dishes and going-going-gone specials such as carabineros (flippin’ gigantic, bright red prawns).
The first Barrafina, on Frith Street (RIP), was the original small-plates-and-no-reservations counter bar pioneer, a template that has since gone viral. This bustling, Barcelona-style tapas joint was so adored that owners the Hart brothers were under pressure to pull something really special out of the bag when they announced a follow-up site in Covent Garden (it’s since been joined by branches on Drury Lane and Dean Street). They didn’t let Londoners down: Adelaide Street is a slightly glitzier, slightly larger venue that pays homage to the original without being a straight copycat. So there’s the same striped marble bar overlooking the kitchen, but its curved design cleverly allows for a couple more grateful bums on those burgundy leather stools. There’s a menu that includes the tapas holy trinity of tortilla, croquetas and jamón, plus Barrafina’s signature market-fresh seafood, but which also runs to Josper-grilled meats, offal delicacies such as deep-fried lamb’s brain, and Mallorcan specialities. In short, it rocks. What are you waiting for? Get in line!
When to go: When you think you’ve tried and tasted every dining concept that London has to offer. Been there, barbecued that? Think again.
What to have: As much as your body can handle – it’s all sooo good. But don’t miss the tacos with soy-cured beef, if those smoky, sweet and fiery gems are on the menu.
We can imagine your eyes rolling at the inclusion of another barbecue restaurant, but shame on you: Temper comes from Neil Rankin, the dude who was holding the tongs when things began to get interesting on the London barbecue scene. What he learned at Barbecoa, he put to bold use at restaurants such as Pitt Cue Co and Smokehouse – this venture takes things into even more exhilarating territory, via whole prime carcasses grilled or smoked in slabs, then divvied-up and served atop homemade tacos and flatbreads with seriously zingy sauces. It’s pinch-yourself good.
When to go: When you want slick service and a big-ticket menu without the formality.
What to have: Shareable jars and killer cocktails kick things off in style.
Ramsay protégé and unstoppable wunderkind Jason Atherton seems hell-bent on building an international restaurant empire every bit as revered as that of his mentor. This was one of three London openings he oversaw in 2013 and his first Soho venture – but he’s barely stopped to draw breath since then. Social Eating House’s dark, low-slung dining room, with its mirrored ceiling and modern artworks, feels cool and informal, while chef Paul Hood’s menu delivers dishes that are at once highly sophisticated, accessible and above all delicious – often throwing in a welcome touch of theatricality when you least expect it. Efficient, attentive staff keep this star-studded show on the road.
When to go: It’s most fun at dinner, but you do need to go early to get a seat – try 5pm on a rainy Tuesday.
What to have: Anything from the tandoor (such as the naan bread) or the grill (such as the charred octopus, which is the best in London).
It’s not possible to have a bad time at The Barbary. Sure, you’ll probably have to queue, but even that’s tolerable, because then you get to feast on moreish deep-fried snacks (like the Moroccan cigars) that don’t appear on the main menu. If the queue is huge and spills out of the door, then you get to hang out in Neal’s Yard, one of London’s loveliest hidden courtyards. The food is labelled as ‘modern Israeli’, though in truth, it’s anything but. What they’ve done is taken the ancient recipes from across North Africa (from the one-time Barbary Coast) and the Middle East that have gone on to influence food in today’s Israeli kitchen, then reimagined them. The smoky room is stuffed full of music, laughter and people that are beautiful in the best way: inside and out.